Vera White: Portfolio of a Society Pilot

You know you’ve done a lot of biographies when new ones start seeming like composites of old ones; thus Vera White sounds like a mash-up of Vera Vague or Vera-Ellen and Pearl White. In sooth, she was a minor stage and screen comedienne of the 1920s.

Born in Melbourne in 1893, Vera married Joe White (Joseph Everett) when she was 20, and they created the vaudeville act Joe and Vera White, the Vaudeville Chop Suey, which featured acrobatic dance and comedy patter. The team toured Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., eventually settling in the States, as had many another Aussie comedian. Steve Massa’s Slapstick Divas tells us she was praised for her Charlie Chaplin impression. From 1915 through 1920, their dog Tex was part of the act, but he perished in a backstage accident.

Starting in 1921 the pair began appearing in Hal Roach comedies, not as a team, but in supporting roles as individuals. Vera had greater success. She’s the “Society Pilot” in Among Those Present (1921) with Harold Lloyd. They’re both in I Do (1921), Never Weaken (1921) and some others. Joe is only in a half dozen shorts and was plainly not happy about it, for in 1922, Vera divorced him on the grounds of cruelty. Vera worked steadily through 1924, after which her screen appearances were less frequent. She had a small role in White Wings (1923) with Stan Laurel. Hustlin’ Hank’ (1923) with Will Rogers, and Thundering Fleas (1926) with Our Gang, Charley Chase, and Oliver Hardy, among a couple of dozen others. Two of her best known and remembered turns came late in her career. She (along with Kay Deslys) is one of two girlfriends in We Faw Down (1928) with Laurel and Hardy. And she’s Ben Turpin’s cross-eyed wife in The Cock-Eyed Family (1928).

White is said to have been involved in a car accident in 1928; perhaps this is why her known credits cease after Rough Dried (1929) with Billy Dooley, with the exception of an appearance as a crowd extra in Laurel and Hardy’s Swiss Miss (1938). Some sources give her death death as 1949; others 1956.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent and classic comedy, read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.